Living in New England, I don’t get to eat rock lobster very often. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to market, purchase, or serve any lobster that isn’t a true American lobster (Homarus americanus), the kind with the big claws. But rock lobster is available both fresh and frozen along most of the East Coast, and although different from true lobster (rock lobster are langostines, spiny lobsters, or langoustes, more closely related to shrimp than lobsters), it is very good. When I worked at Petite St. Vincent Resort in the Grenadines, rock lobsters were abundant. The local fishermen would bring them in live every morning and because they were (hard to believe) one of the least expensive local foods, we served them every day in all sorts of preparations. Each Friday night, we had a barbecue on the beach for out guests and everyone’s favorite was the lobster tails grilled over a charcoal fire scented with nutmeg shells.
The tail of the rock lobster is the only part worth bothering with. There is very little meat in the body, and they don’t have claws like American lobsters. The best way to grill the tails is to start by blanching them quickly in saltwater—that way, the meat will come out of the shell easily.
Rock lobster, like American lobster, is healthful, very high in protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. It too is delicious with butter. Because it is expensive to fill up on rock lobster, I like to serve it with hearty foods like black beans and rice or the very special sauce, from Mexico, made with avocado and hard-boiled egg and called ají verde.
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course
Kosher or sea salt
4 large uncooked rock lobster tails (5 to 6 ounces each)
About ¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Ají Verde (recipe follows)
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Ají verde (makes about 1 cup):
1 ripe avocado
2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small plum tomato, cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small jalapeño (or ¼ habanero), seeded and minced
1. Fill a 5- or 6-quart pot with about 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add about ¼ cup salt, preferably sea salt, to make it taste like ocean water (or use ocean water). When the water is at a rolling boil, add the lobster tails and cook for about 3 minutes. Using tongs, remove the lobster tails from the water and let them cool to room temperature.
2. Using a cleaver or heavy knife, cut the tails lengthwise down the center. Remove the intestinal tract. Place the tails on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you are ready to grill them.
3. Prepare a medium grill fire following (see Notes)—let the fire cook down so the lobster tails will cook evenly and not too fast. Clean the grill with a wire brush and wipe it with a cloth sprayed or moistened with vegetable oil.
4. Place the lobster tails on a large plate or in a shallow pan and brush them, on both the shell and meat side, with the oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
5. Place the tails meat side down directly over the fire. Cook for 3 minutes, and turn them over. The meat should have grill marks and some brown spots from the grill. Brush the meat with oil and continue cooking for another 5 or 6 minutes, shell side down. If the shells become charred quickly, the fire is too hot and you should move the tails to indirect heat, or the periphery of the grill. Transfer the grilled tails to a platter or plates and spoon about ¼ cup sauce over each tail.
For the Ají Verde:
1. Halve and pit the avocado, peel, and cut into ½ -inch dice. Place the avocado in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the chopped eggs, scallions, tomato, lemon juice, jalapeño, cilantro, garlic, and olive oil and mix with a fork to create a creamy, chunky paste. Season with the salt and a little pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. This sauce tastes best the day it is made, but you can make it in the morning and serve later in the day.
Working Ahead: The lobster tails can be blanched and split, ready for grilling, hours in advance; refrigerate until ready to cook. The sauce can also be made earlier in the day.
Building the fire and setting up the grill:
Start by filling the bottom section of a chimney starter with crumpled newspaper; usually two sheets. Place the chimney on the bottom rack of the grill and fill the top of the chimney with charcoal. Light the paper in several spots around the bottom, and let the charcoal ignite and burn until it is covered with a layer of fine gray ash and flames are coming from the top of the chimney, about 20 minutes. The coals are now ready. If your grill is round, spread the coals in a single even layer in the center of the grill, so the heat is steady, leaving space around the periphery, so the food can be moved to the outside as necessary to finish cooking. For a rectangular grill, I also recommend building the fire in the center—that give you cooler spots on both sides of the fire for finishing the cooking.
If you are cooking a small amount of food, a chimneyful may be all the coals you need. If you are grilling a large amount of food, you may want to make the fire bigger, by layering more charcoal over the hot coals.
Set the grill rack on the grill and let it get very hot. Don’t rush hardwood fires. After the grate is hot, clean it with a wire brush and wipe it with vegetable oil, using an oil-soaked rag. When the coals are white, you are ready to start grilling recipes that call for a very hot fire (500°F to 600°F). For a medium fire (350°F to 450°F), you will need to allow the coals to cook down for another 10 to 15 minutes.